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Thread: Lefties Who Play Righty?

  1. #1
    Registered User MoreThanQuinn's Avatar
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    Default Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Hey Café-ers,

    I've been playing mandolin for a year and a half now. I am left-handed but play mandolin right-handed. I grew up playing pretty much all sports and instruments right-handed (e.g. golfing, hockey, violin, guitar, etc), so at this point I'm playing righty for life. I would never switch.

    However, sometimes when I hit a wall in my playing, for instance when I'm struggling to increase my speed or struggle with accuracy, I can't help but wonder if the problem is a result of my using my non-dominant hand to pick. I try to assure myself that both hands are engaged and the best players wouldn't get hung up on a trivial issue like this. I know that's the best mindset, to brush it off, but on the more difficult days I can't help but give it some thought.

    So, I would love to know, are any of you lefties who play righty? How has the process been for you? Can you reach a decent speed, keep good tone, etc?

    And, are any of the pros we know and love lefties who play righty?

    Thanks in advance for helping me hush the little voice in the back of my mind!
    Last edited by MoreThanQuinn; Mar-13-2019 at 6:50am.
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    Registered User Timbofood's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I think when a wall is struck, rather than making a drastic change, just play through it! I’m a lefty that plays right handed always have, always will. Find more people to play with, start something fresh. The added interest will get you over the wall.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Me too. I write left handed and my left arm is stronger, but for almost all sports I'm right handed - except for boxing where I'm a southpaw. When I played drums I used a left handed kit because I lead with my left. Interestingly I also learned to play on a right handed kit (I just don't cross my hands) so I could sit in when invited.

    On stringed instruments I play right handed. While I "feel" like I could play left handed, I don't see any advantage to going through the muscle-memory learning process. Plus I think I have a little more arthritis in my right hand than the left.
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    Registered User RandyC's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I am another lefty playing righty. When I started playing guitar many years ago I set up my guitar to play left handed. My teacher made me play the guitar righty and now I play mandolin righty too. I have had the same thoughts as you about my playing ability and if I would have been better off playing lefty. I have tried playing guitar a couple of times over the years lefty but it felt way too weird.

    Interestingly when I play air guitar (or mandolin) I do that lefty. I know another lefty guitar player who plays righty and also plays air guitar lefty.

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I am also a lefty who plays rightie. In sports I have always done everything lefthanded (except I can bat righthanded). Speed of picking comes through practice. 2 years ago I decided to consciously work on speed, so broke out the metronome. Scales up and down the neck quarter notes at an easy speed, then eighths, then sixteenths, now bump the metronome speed and repeat until cannot cleanly play 16ths, ... I got faster, fast enough for what I play. I suppose if I wanted to play rawhide at monroe speed I would need to go back and build more speed.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Another lefty playing righty here and yes...I totally think we should have learned to play left handed. There are various reasons why we do this mainly there were not many/any left handed instruments available. I play golf righty because of this.

    Lots of people right and left handed will say it doesn’t matter because the left hand does the fretting. Well if the fretting hand is so important why don’t all the righties play left handed...

    The picking hand is extremly important...speed, tone, technique, loudness, etc comes from the picking hand not the fretting hand. I have experimented turning the mando over and am much better picking with my left hand. Like Kevin above I too have worked on increasing speed over time but it’s a struggle.

    After all this time I’m not going to change but I would recommend for anyone just starting off, find a lefty instrument.
    Last edited by bigskygirl; Mar-13-2019 at 9:56am. Reason: Add thoughts
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Chris Thile is a lefty who plays righty. He has no evident problems with speed! It's more about learning and practice, and less about any 'intrinsic' dexterity issues. You can learn to play faster, and if I were you, I would not be inclined to blame your current problems on being left-handed! We all hit walls in our development as musicians.

    Unlike some of the others, I would not recommend finding a lefty instrument if you want to play mandolin. BOTH hands are important. Both hands are also important for the piano, the harp, the woodwinds (saxophone, flute, clarinet, oboe), and so on. These folks do not clamor for lefty instruments.

    If you play righty, you will likely have more -- and better -- instruments to choose from. You will also fit on a tight stage better.

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    Registered User MoreThanQuinn's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Chris Thile is a lefty who plays righty. He has no evident problems with speed!
    Is this true?

    If so, that's awesome! When I started this thread I thought to myself, I wish somebody would just tell me that Thile was lefty (thinking, of course, that there was no possible way he was) and then I wouldn't have any reason to think it was an impediment!

    Haha, well, thanks for making it happen.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    My limited understanding of the scientific studies around handedness indicates that it is not always a binary equation. Meaning that not all of us are entirely one hand dominant. There are many who fall somewhere along a continuum; they may favor one hand, but are close to being ambidextrous.

    I am entirely right handed. I had to give up the hammer dulcimer. Try as I might, I could not get my left hand to do the same runs the same way as my right. I've no doubt that if I tried to cross pick the guitar with my left hand, I'd get the same results.

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that some left handed players might easily adapt to playing right handed, while others would greatly benefit from playing left handed.

    I have a friend who plays fiddle left handed, but guitar and mandolin right handed. Go figure.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by MoreThanQuinn View Post
    Is this true?

    If so, that's awesome! When I started this thread I thought to myself, I wish somebody would just tell me that Thile was lefty (thinking, of course, that there was no possible way he was) and then I wouldn't have any reason to think it was an impediment!

    Haha, well, thanks for making it happen.
    It's definitely true. Being a lefty who learned to play right-handed hasn't held back the world's greatest mandolinist (IMHO).

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    You certainly don't have to take our word for it. Here's a picture of Chris Thile signing a mandolin using his left hand to write:

    Click image for larger version. 

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    I suppose you could argue that he's ambidextrous. The fact is, we are all ambidextrous to some degree (unless you're missing a limb or have an infirmity). It is true that some folks experience more hand dominance than others, but that dominance tends to be strongly reinforced by usage, and not so much by genetics. Some folks may be fiddlers (as well as mandolinists), but we are not fiddler crabs!

    Click image for larger version. 

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    Yes, humans can learn to play musical instruments well either lefty or righty. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

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    Registered User Eric Platt's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    And another who is lefty who plays righty. Always been this way. When my elementary school wanted me to learn guitar they were shocked when I insisted on learning right handed. No idea why I was that way. Just felt more natural.

    Of course, if my playing stinks there is a built in excuse.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I guess two hand tapping isn't very common in mandolin, but if it was you could be fretting with left and right hands simultaneously like you do on electric guitar. I wonder anyone has ever made a Michael Angelo Batio style double neck/quad neck mandolin.

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Jez Lowe, folk singer songwriter, is right handed and plays both guitar and mandolin left handed!!!
    Indulge responsibly!

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    funny....

  21. #15

    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by sblock View Post
    Yes, humans can learn to play musical instruments well either lefty or righty. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise!
    You seem pretty sure of yourself, and I would totally disagree, you’re not the final say on this topic. Everytime there is a thread like this someone jumps in and says do it my way, you’ve done it twice in less than a dozen posts now.

    Have you tried to learn/do something using your non dominant hand...brush your teeth with your other hand, tie your shoes, button clothes, etc.

    Playing the other instruments you mentioned has nothing to do with handedness. With stringed instruments it seems that the bow or picking hand is the more important one. Sure you have to fret the proper notes but the bow/picking hand is the feel.

    There is no way I can compare myself to Chris Thiele, I wouldn’t even care to try...I’m probably better than him at some things.

    Phil Michelson is a righty who plays golf lefty. Yes, people can adapt and overcome but the question is “is it better to learn your natural inclination”, we stopped forcing lefties to write righty ages ago so the answer is generally yes.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I read this with interest because I am a lefty who plays lefty, tried righty and can't do it. Don't ask me why I golf and bat
    right handed go figure. I have went through a trial in my short 1 year stint with what my wife calls my mandolin adventures.
    I love my mandolin but I wish I had bought a left handed instrument to begin with. With patience you can find some very good
    luthers that offer either left or right. So when I sit down with my instructor I only need to mirror him. Makes my learning experience
    enjoyable. Either way I just wanna play and have fun.

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    Registered User lflngpicker's Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I am a pure left hander that does everything, or did everything, including baseball, basketball, football and golf left handed, and write and eat left, as well. My father's '47 Martin guitar was right and so I picked that up at 7 years old. I have always joked that I "play guitar with both hands." Anyway, both hands have a vital role in playing guitar or mandolin. I think this is a very interesting topic. More importantly, as an educator I studied brain dominance. It is known that the right side of the brain is associated with music and arts. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. Left handers tend to be artistic, but I am not saying that there aren't a great many people who are artistic that are right handed. It is also true that many right handers might have been left hand dominant but were trained as a small child to use their right hand because of social or cultural issues. Just some thoughts...

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    You seem pretty sure of yourself, and I would totally disagree, you’re not the final say on this topic. Everytime there is a thread like this someone jumps in and says do it my way, you’ve done it twice in less than a dozen posts now.

    Have you tried to learn/do something using your non dominant hand...brush your teeth with your other hand, tie your shoes, button clothes, etc.

    Playing the other instruments you mentioned has nothing to do with handedness. With stringed instruments it seems that the bow or picking hand is the more important one. Sure you have to fret the proper notes but the bow/picking hand is the feel.

    There is no way I can compare myself to Chris Thiele, I wouldn’t even care to try...I’m probably better than him at some things.

    Phil Michelson is a righty who plays golf lefty. Yes, people can adapt and overcome but the question is “is it better to learn your natural inclination”, we stopped forcing lefties to write righty ages ago so the answer is generally yes.
    just to stir the pot, I reject the premise that picking is inherently harder than fretting, especially if you step out of the bluegrass world, and start playing melodies with runs up and down the neck (changing position). Hammer ons, pull offs slides. Show me the definitive study that proves picking is harder. Oh and I will need to review their methodology too.
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by bigskygirl View Post
    You seem pretty sure of yourself, and I would totally disagree, you’re not the final say on this topic. Everytime there is a thread like this someone jumps in and says do it my way, you’ve done it twice in less than a dozen posts now.

    Have you tried to learn/do something using your non dominant hand...brush your teeth with your other hand, tie your shoes, button clothes, etc.

    Playing the other instruments you mentioned has nothing to do with handedness. With stringed instruments it seems that the bow or picking hand is the more important one. Sure you have to fret the proper notes but the bow/picking hand is the feel.

    There is no way I can compare myself to Chris Thiele, I wouldn’t even care to try...I’m probably better than him at some things.

    Phil Michelson is a righty who plays golf lefty. Yes, people can adapt and overcome but the question is “is it better to learn your natural inclination”, we stopped forcing lefties to write righty ages ago so the answer is generally yes.
    Yow! Please take it down notch -- you seem to be adopting a pretty hostile approach, and that's both unnecessary and unwelcome in this forum. You're quite welcome to disagree with me! Also, at no time did I ever say or imply that I was "the final say" in anything. That's laughable. Actually, there's no such thing in this life. But I usually try to defend my comments with some relevant facts, as well as offering my opinions (which were solicited by the thread). So yes, I would agree that I am confident of my ground.

    On the issue of handedness, you'll find all sorts of opinions, and all sorts and behaviors. As we have seen, there are lefties who play righty, and vice versa. There are some folks who are so dominant-handed (one way or the other) that they can scarcely manage any tasks at all with their non-dominant hand. But there are other folks who can easily master tasks with either hand. And everything in between. If you're a lefty who has never tried righty, or vice versa, for any task that requires dexterity, the chances are good that you will find it harder to switch over than someone who has done so before. Experience is the key. And genetics is only a small part of the equation. A very small part, in fact! Folks who excel in their fields, like Phil Mickelson (note spelling) in golf and Chris Thile (note spelling) in mandolin provide living examples of just how much more experience matters.

    I would argue that if you have the opportunity to start from scratch on learning a fretted instrument, you will have much better options down the line by starting out with a right-handed instrument. (Nearly all violinists do, by the way. There are rare exceptions in the folk world, and virtually no exceptions in the classical world of music). The hands engage in very different roles in playing a fretted instrument, and I think it's something of a mistake to insist that one hand or the other is "the more important one." Hey, they're BOTH important. Screw up with either hand and you will screw up the music. I do agree with you that much of the "feel" is supplied by the picking hand. Or the bow hand, on a violin. But then, there are plenty of great left-handed violinists who hold the bow in their right (non-dominant) hand. Facts are facts.

    No one, and certainly not me, is "forcing" any lefties to go righty. I am advising them to go righty -- if they can! -- based on my knowledge of the musical world and personal experience. YMMV.

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    To Kevin the Pot Stirrer - I did not say that picking is harder than fretting - I said generally its considered more important for tone, timing, loudness, etc. There are resources all over this forum and the world wide web for the picking hand...I don't see many for the fretting hand as its generally pretty concrete (with few exceptions) that if you want a certain note you have to put your finger down on a certain fret. Heck, Chris Thile himself has videos and workshops on the picking hand so while I maintain picking is pretty important I'm in no way saying it's harder than fretting.

    To sblock, thanks for the spelling lesson . In this day and age there are plenty of options for lefties - I am one of them. Back in the day I learned golf, guitar, how to use a can opener and a whole host of other ADL right handed because thats all there was. Now I'm amazed at the amount of resources available for a lefty. I think we generally agree that people are pliable and learn differently. I'm just saying that a lefty just starting out should totally look into left handed instruments and not learn righty only because there are better options, etc. BTW a violinist once told me that all play righty because it would look funny on stage...then I ran into this lady who plays a righty violin lefty.

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    Registered User Charles E.'s Avatar
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    One amazing left handed mandolin is Rory Hoffman. Not only does he play a right handed mandolin sitting on his lap but he can whistle........


    Charley

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I've also seen a left handed mandolin player who played a right handed mandolin upside down (not strung upside down, just physically. G strings at the bottom) and sounded pretty darn good too.
    Maybe we should make Thile switch and bring him down a little closer to human level (probably not for long lol).
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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    I was getting an autograph on a Hot Rize CD a few years ago & noticed that Tim O'Brien is naturally left handed. He doesn't seem to have any problem getting around on anything he touches. Such a unique style you can usually hear his voice through his mando.

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by Drew Egerton View Post
    I've also seen a left handed mandolin player who played a right handed mandolin upside down (not strung upside down, just physically. G strings at the bottom) and sounded pretty darn good too.
    Maybe we should make Thile switch and bring him down a little closer to human level (probably not for long lol).
    Drew, That makes sense-- if a left handed bass player wanted to pick up mandolin the way to do it would be to play a right handed mandolin upside down, and then the tuning (at least the string pitches, not the same octave-- oops!) would be the exact situation. Obvious? or -- oh, well, just for fun. These subjects can be informative and fun at the same time!

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    Default Re: Lefties Who Play Righty?

    Quote Originally Posted by lflngpicker View Post
    I am a pure left hander that does everything, or did everything, including baseball, basketball, football and golf left handed, and write and eat left, as well. My father's '47 Martin guitar was right and so I picked that up at 7 years old. I have always joked that I "play guitar with both hands." Anyway, both hands have a vital role in playing guitar or mandolin. I think this is a very interesting topic. More importantly, as an educator I studied brain dominance. It is known that the right side of the brain is associated with music and arts. The right side of the brain controls the left side of the body. Left handers tend to be artistic, but I am not saying that there aren't a great many people who are artistic that are right handed. It is also true that many right handers might have been left hand dominant but were trained as a small child to use their right hand because of social or cultural issues. Just some thoughts...
    Some lefties brains are mirror imaged. If I remember correctly I think about 1/3.

    I was made to use my right hand as a small child. I was left handed till school made me write with my right and asked my parents to make me eat with my right hand.

    I'd give my right arm to be ambidextrous.

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